By San Antonio Rose
When she was still with The People, the Numakaki, her name was White Elk. Her mother had taught her the old ways, and her grandmother had taught her the uses of plants for medicine and healing as well as for the everyday things. But then a sickness had come, a fever that settled in the lungs and worsened, and nearly everyone in her village had died. A kind white man, Jean-Luc, had come and helped them as he could, but only White Elk and two of her brothers had survived, and even they had been very sick. When they were well, her brothers had decided to go to another village, but Jean-Luc had asked White Elk to marry him. Her brothers had agreed, and so did she. They had traveled together some after their marriage, but mostly they had lived here in this cabin, far west of where The People lived. Jean-Luc had wanted her to stay there more often than not because it was safe—the walls were strong, thick logs, and in them he had carved many sacred symbols of protection as he built it.
Jean-Luc had called her Françoise because he couldn’t pronounce her true name. She didn’t mind. But Jean-Luc was dead now, had been for many years. The friend with whom he sometimes traveled to sell his furs had told her he had only disappeared, but she knew the truth. The mountains west had been impassible, so the men had gone east to find buyers, all the way into Ojibwa country; there was bad medicine there. She knew a wendigo had taken him.
So now she lived here alone in Jean-Luc’s cabin, sometimes using her knowledge of plants to help travelers in need. She had no way of knowing whether Lone Man, or the white man’s Jesus, would take heed of a widow cut off from her people this way, but it would have taken months for her to go back to the Heart River, and she had no way of knowing where The People would be camped. She was safe enough here, and there was danger on the road. So she stayed.
One day she heard horses approaching and looked outside. Three men were coming, white men who were very tall, but one was draped across the saddle of his great black horse. The younger of the men still upright was watching the man on the black horse and was very worried; the older was watching the way, but she couldn’t read the expression on his face. They needed help, though; that much was plain. So she ran outside.
“Is he alive?” she asked in English.
The younger man looked startled, but the older man nodded. “Alive, but hurt bad. You got any herbs here?”
She nodded. “What do you need?”
“S’mmyyyyy,” the hurt man moaned.
“I’m here, Dean,” the younger man—Sammy?—answered, jumping off his horse and gathering the hurt man—Dean—into his arms. “I’m here. I gotcha.”
Sammy looked at White Elk. “Is there—”
“Straight back,” she answered, standing aside and pointing. “There is a bed.”
“Thanks.” Sammy tightened his hold on Dean and ran into the cabin, so quickly she wasn’t sure whether she saw blood on Dean’s shirt or not.
“’Bout those herbs,” the older man said quickly and began naming what he needed.
She nodded at each name, but as the list grew to include things like sage, tobacco, and sweet grass, she began to frown. “He was injured by a spirit, then?”
The older man nodded. “Injured and cursed. We ain’t got much time.”
Nodding, she motioned for him to follow and ran inside, quickly laying hands on the plants he needed. He measured them into a bowl and instructed her on how to mix them, then went to set up the rest of the ritual while she ground the plants into a paste. When he returned, he cut his arm, added his blood to the paste, and mixed it in with a spoon. Finally, he took the bowl and more sage and tobacco with him into the bedroom.
She stepped outside. Strong medicine of this type was not for women’s eyes, and there were horses to tend.
There was still a corral behind the cabin, as well as a barn, and Jean-Luc had fitted the corral water trough with a pump before his final trip. She took the horses and pack mule back there and gave them water to drink and fresh hay to eat. Then she began unloading the horses, setting the saddle bags on the fence before returning to deal with the saddles. But Dean’s horse, she noticed, wasn’t interested in water or food, only in what was happening in the house.
She had just gotten the black mare unsaddled when the older man came out the back door, looking tired. The mare whinnied at him as he approached.
“Easy, Impala, easy, girl,” the man said gently and walked into the corral. “He’s gonna be okay.”
The mare—Impala—pushed her nose into the man’s hands, ears back. He scratched her between the eyes, on her silver-white blaze.
“A devoted horse,” White Elk said.
The man smiled a little and nodded. “Yeah, she’s pretty special.”
“Did the medicine work?”
“It did, thanks. We were in time. Thank God you were here—dunno what we’d have done if you weren’t.”
“Is he well, then?”
The man huffed. “Not hardly. Still pretty cut up. Would it be all right if the boys stay a few days ’til Dean’s back on his feet?”
She nodded. “Yes, of course. I have goldenseal and arrowroot, and willow bark for pain. Poppy if it gets very bad.”
“Good, good. That’ll do fine.”
Sammy came outside then and jogged over to them. “Bobby, you can’t—”
The man—Bobby—turned to him. “Sam, somebody’s gotta kill that thing. We did some damage; now I’ll go finish it off.” He released Impala and went to pick up his saddlebags.
Sammy—Sam?—followed. “You can’t go alone!”
“I’ll be all right, boy. You just stay here and look after your brother.”
“We stand around here and argue, it’s liable to wake up again ’fore I can get back.”
Sam rolled his eyes and huffed. “Fine. But if you don’t check back here before you go back to Jackson, I’m coming after you.”
Bobby chuckled. “Stubborn little cuss.”
“Family don’t end with blood, sir.” But Sam was fighting a smile.
Bobby laughed. “Get in there—he’s probably awake already.”
Sam nodded, hit Bobby on the shoulder, and ran back inside.
Bobby put his bags back on his horse. “Thank you for your hospitality, ma’am, and your help. Dean’ll eat anything but greens, and Sam likes greens better but will eat anything—’cept chocolate chip cookies, but I don’t reckon you’d be serving those.”
“N-no,” White Elk agreed, not knowing what chocolate chip cookies might be.
Bobby took a pack from the mule, slung it over his shoulder, and mounted his horse. “Don’t be afraid to put Sam to work if you need. Oh, and if Dean starts a fever, he may talk a little crazy. Don’t pay him no mind.”
“I doubt it,” he muttered, but then he smiled at her. “Thanks again, ma’am. I’ll be back in a day or two.” And he rode away.
It wasn’t until White Elk had set Sam and Dean’s saddles in the barn that she realized Bobby had spoken to her as he would a white woman.
Sam was back in the corral when she came out of the barn, unloading the pack mule. “Hi,” he called. “Sorry to have barged in on you like this.”
“No need to be sorry,” she replied. “You needed help, and I was here.”
“You sure you don’t mind if we stay? I mean, I don’t want to impose.”
“Quite sure. Where would you go?”
He shrugged. “Good point. Would these things be safe in the barn, you think?”
“I would expect so.”
She blinked. That... wasn’t the way she was used to hearing white men use the word awesome. Perhaps he was from the East.
He noticed. “Uh, sorry, we’re... Canadian.”
She wasn’t sure that was true, but there was no need to question him on that point. It made little difference. Instead, she turned to her true question. “What spirit attacked your brother?”
“Not one you’d have heard of. It’s Chinese.”
“Yet you used our plants to break the curse.”
He shrugged. “Sometimes cures from another culture work as well as, or better than, the cures from the culture the spirit’s from. One time we broke a Navajo curse with a Japanese tactic, which is really ironic, considering... well, considering.”
She decided not to ask about what he hadn’t said, just gathered up the bags that he would let her carry and led him into the barn. He stacked the boxes carefully and helped her place the bags near them.
“You hunt such things often, then?” she asked as they went back to get the last saddlebags.
He nodded. “All our lives, pretty much. We’ve been in Jackson for a couple of years now, and that’s about the longest Dean and I have stayed in one place in a long time. But we still get reports of this kind of thing, and since there’s not really anybody else out here with the know-how to deal with it, we take care of it.”
“And what do you do in Jackson?”
He smiled wryly. “Guess you could say we’re the law.”
Only then did she notice and understand the flash of silver on the left side of his vest—a badge that had been hidden by his brother’s shoulder. “Hunting spirits must be good practice for that.”
He laughed, and they went back into the cabin.
“Sam?” Dean called weakly as the door closed.
Sam dropped his saddlebags and went to kneel beside the bed. “Hey.”
“Where are we? Rufus’ place?”
“No, we’re in Wyoming, remember? We’re in this lady’s cabin.”
As she walked over, Sam looked around at her and grimaced. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Sam Winchester. This is my brother Dean.”
“Hi,” Dean said with a slight smile. He was almost as pale as the bandage on his chest, so it was the best he could do. “Who’re you?”
“Françoise,” she replied, suspecting these men, like most white men, would have trouble with her right name.
But Dean’s eyes narrowed. “Nuh-uh. You’re not French.”
“Dean,” Sam whispered sharply.
White Elk laughed quietly. “That was what my husband called me. In your language, my birth name would be White Elk.”
Dean relaxed and smiled again, nodding a little. “White Elk. Like that. Fits you.”
“You mentioned a husband,” Sam said. “Is he....”
“Dead. A wendigo took him.”
Both men cursed quietly. Then, “Sorry for your loss,” they both said at the same time.
She smiled as best she could. “It was long ago.”
“’N far away,” Dean added, sounding a little like a man drunk or feverish. “’Member that, Sammy, with James Earl Jones? You used to love that show....”
“Shh,” Sam interrupted. “You’re still in pretty bad shape, man. Get some rest.”
“’Kay. Nice... nice t’meet you, White Elk.” And he fell asleep.
Sam ran a hand over his face. “Is there anything I can help with? Chores, cooking, anything?”
She shook her head. “No, you are tired. Rest now, and I will wake you when dinner is ready.”
As if there were medicine in her words, Sam yawned and nodded. “Okay. I’ll... yeah. Thanks.” Then he lay down beside the bed and fell asleep.
White Elk went outside to check on the horses and mule again. Once she was sure they had all they needed, she returned to the cabin and checked her stores. Her grandmother had taught her that some healing spices could be used in stews, and since Dean’s chest was injured, stew was likely to be easier for him to eat than a roast. Soon she had killed a couple of rabbits, gathered some plants for what Jean-Luc called une salade, drawn water from the well, and was hard at work preparing a rich stew that should give Dean the strength he needed to get well.
So intent was she on her work that she almost missed the low murmur of voices in the bedroom when the brothers woke.
“’S bed’s hard, S’mmy,” she finally heard Dean complain. “’N it squeaks.”
“It’s a rope bed, dude,” Sam replied—and that caught her off guard, because as far as she knew, dude meant he who belongs in a city and does not understand the West. But that didn’t quite seem to be what Sam meant. “’Course it squeaks.”
“Do’n’ Rufus have a TV? ’M borrrred.”
“We’re not at the cabin, Dean. And there’s not a TV here.”
“But ’m bored.”
“Do you even remember when we are?”
And that made even less sense, because the way Sam asked that question, White Elk would have expected him to say where instead of when. But it couldn’t be a mistake. Sam spoke too precisely for that.
“Wanna watch TV, Sammy,” Dean insisted.
“White Elk does not have a TV. Get over it.”
“Lady who owns this place.”
“Oh.” Dean paused. “Ohhhhh. Her. She’s purtyful.”
She could almost hear Sam’s smile in his reply. “Yeah, she is.”
“’Minds me o’ Lisa—’member Lisa?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“I miss Lisa. Should call her.”
Sam sounded sad now. “We can’t, man. You know why we can’t.”
Dean sighed heavily. “Loved her, dude.”
“I know you did. I’m sorry. Wish things had turned out a different way.”
“Stupid Cas. Stupid djinn. Stupid Robocop.”
“Not even gonna ask.”
“Nnnn. Don’ scratch’a Wall.”
“Doesn’t even itch.”
Honestly, were these men even speaking English? Or was this some other language she didn’t know, like German or Russian? Bobby had said Dean might “talk crazy” if he had a fever—was this what he meant?
“OW!” Dean yelped suddenly. “Quit that!”
“Dean, I need to check your chest. I think you might have some infection in there, and if so, we need to take care of it before it gets any worse.”
Dean spluttered and cursed and whined as Sam examined him, and then he hissed and cursed more as something splashed. A moment later, White Elk smelled fire-water. Sam murmured an apology and came out shaking his hands as if to dry them.
“’Scuse me, White Elk,” he said politely. “Do you have—”
She stood and pointed to the prepared medicines she had stored. “Tinctures of goldenseal and poppy are on that shelf. And I have arrowroot you can crush to put on his wounds.”
“That’d be great, thanks.”
She got the arrowroot ready to crush while he took the tinctures back to treat Dean. Then he returned and made short work of preparing the poultice while she found fresh bandages. Finally, he carried both the crushed arrowroot and the bandages back to his brother, which was followed by more cursing and strange talk from Dean.
“There,” Sam stated at last. “All set.”
“Trussed up like a turkey,” Dean grumbled. “Speakin’ of which, Sam, I’m hungry.”
“She’s got supper going, dude. Shouldn’t be long.”
“Don’ f’rget.” Dean was fading again; perhaps the poppy was taking effect.
“I’m just going in the next room, Dean. She can probably hear you.”
“Al’s f’rget m’pie.”
“Not going to this time, promise.” Sam came out again, shaking his head.
White Elk couldn’t help smiling. “I did hear.”
“Can you make a pie?”
“Do I know how? Yes, my husband taught me. But I cannot make one for a few days; there are no berries ripe today. I had hoped to get some to put in the salade.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “Salad? You made salad?!”
“Bobby said you like greens.”
“Boy, if we’re stuck here too long, you might find yourself with another husband.”
White Elk laughed—and so did Dean, who had apparently heard that exchange.
“Is there anything I can help with?”
“Taste this stew, perhaps, to see if it is to your liking.”
Sam took a careful taste and groaned happily. “If your pie’s this good, we may have to fight over you.”
“Or share,” Dean called.
White Elk laughed harder. She knew what the compliments meant, and she remembered what Dean had said of ‘Lisa,’ whoever she was. His loss was too fresh still for him to be serious about marrying a stranger, no matter how much he liked her food. But in a way, these men reminded her of her own brothers, and it was good to laugh with them. “Perhaps,” she replied. “Or perhaps I will choose and make you pass tests to help me decide.”
“I’ll cut down the mightiest tree in the forest,” Dean declared in a high voice, “wiiiiith... a HERRING!”
“NI!” Sam called back, his eyes sparkling. “Bring us a shrubbery!”
“Are you saying ‘Ni’ to that old woman?”
White Elk gasped for breath. “I’m 37! I’m not old!”
And somehow that was exactly the right thing to say, because both brothers howled with laughter. She didn’t understand the joke, but she was glad she had said something they found funny.
“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords—” Dean began.
“Is no basis for a system of government,” the brothers finished together and laughed again.
White Elk laughed, too, and shook her head at the silliness. This conversation made no sense at all, but she got the sense that Sam and Dean were quoting from a story they knew well.
Sam pulled himself together. “Seriously, White Elk, this is delicious. Thank you for cooking for us.”
She chuckled. “And thank you for bringing laughter into this house. It has been far too long.”
“Well, hell,” Dean called, “if it’s laughter you want....”
“You’re still not funny,” Sam called back.
“Think you mean delirious,” Sam shot back with a wink at White Elk and started filling a bowl with stew for Dean.
“Ekki ekki ekki ekki ptang zooboing,” said Dean in the funny high voice.
“Ni,” Sam agreed. “Mais... je... pense....”
“No’ singin’ tha’n. Ches’ hurz.”
“Laughing too hard.” Sam smiled at White Elk and took the bowl of stew into the bedroom.
“’S’at another chicken joke?”
“You betcher bippy.”
“Shut up and eat.”
“Sockatoome.” There was a pause, and then Dean groaned happily, followed by an appreciative curse.
“Not doin’ th’airplane thing, though.”
“Don’t have to if you won’t shut your mouth. Here.”
“Mmmm. Why should I? Lady sez—”
“She wants to laugh, I know.”
“Be havin’ tea onna ceilin’. Mm.”
“I’m not even going to pretend I know what that meant.”
“Dude. Mary Poppins.”
“What—oh. No, don’t sing it, I got it now.”
“Mm mm mm-mm.”
“’Course, those were good jokes.”
“‘Wooden leg named Smith’ is a good joke?”
“Better than your usual.”
“You spit that spoon at me, you won’t get any more.”
White Elk could almost hear Dean’s glare.
“Yes, you are.”
White Elk was trying so hard not to laugh out loud, she feared she might drop the bowl of stew she had filled for Sam.
“Dude,” Dean said suddenly, all trace of teasing gone from his voice. “You got Dad’s journal?”
“Yeah, it’s in your saddlebag. Why?”
“Write down how to get here.”
“’Case we wanna come back.” That was so quiet she barely heard him—but he sounded young when he said it, almost shy, like a small boy afraid he would be in trouble.
“Aw, Dean.” Sam’s voice was gentle now. “You think I won’t remember the way?”
“No, but if you’re hurt....”
“Think she’d get mad if we come only when we’re hurt.”
“I know, I know. I’ll write it down.”
White Elk had to take a moment to compose herself so she wouldn’t cry. It had been so long, so very, very long since she had friends, real friends who cared about more than her skill with plants and her cooking. Even Jean-Luc’s friend had stopped coming by to see her years ago. She hoped nothing had happened to him.
She hoped nothing would happen to Sam and Dean and Bobby.
Sam met her at the bedroom door and exchanged the empty bowl for the one she carried. “We really appreciate all this, White Elk.”
She smiled. “It is my pleasure, Sam, truly. I have not seen my own brothers in twenty years. Since I cannot serve them, I am glad to serve you.”
“What happened to your brothers?”
“We parted when I married. Our village had been destroyed by a sickness, so they decided to join another.”
Dean frowned. “Where was this?”
“East from here, on the Heart River.”
He blinked. “You’re Mandan?”
That startled her. “Yes. How did you know?”
“Heard—something about a big flu and pneumonia outbreak around then.”
Sam frowned. “What?”
“Remember, that—” Dean broke off, clearly expecting Sam to fill in the blanks for himself.
And Sam apparently did so. “Oh, that, right, yeah. How do you even remember that?”
Dean’s answering look told Sam he was a fool for asking.
“Pneumonia,” White Elk repeated so she wouldn’t keep puzzling over what the brothers weren’t saying. The word was less familiar to her than most, but she had heard it before. “That is the fever that burns in the lungs?”
“Right,” Sam said.
She nodded thoughtfully. “One of Jean-Luc’s friends had that one winter. He did not describe it, so I had not thought it was the same sickness my people had.”
“Wait, whoa,” Dean interrupted. “Your husband’s name was Jean-Luc?”
Sam looked at him oddly. “Dean, don’t even ask the next question.”
“Oh, whatever, Riker.”
“Someone from back home,” Sam explained to White Elk, shaking his head. “Probably not related.”
She chuckled wryly. “I see my English is not what it should be.”
“No, we just tend to talk in inside jokes. If that’s a problem, though....”
“Sam. Do not even think of leaving. Even if Dean were well enough to travel, Bobby expects to find you here on his return. And besides,” she added with a smile at Dean, “I believe I have promised to make a pie.”
Dean replied with the brightest smile he could muster.